MassDevelopment

Lease it Local: Peabody wants to attract downtown businesses

September 24, 2017 : The Salem News, by Ethan Forman


PEABODY — When Bella and Harvey Boutique Bakery and Bella's Gourmet Foods owner and executive chef Lisa Lotruglio decided to close her seasonal storefront on Bearskin Neck in Rockport in October, she decided downtown Peabody was the place she wanted to be.

She already has a kitchen facility on Walnut Street, and many of her customers already come from the North Shore. And, people can't get enough of her cake pops and mason jar cakes.

"We were mobbed during International Festival," said Lotruglio, who lives in Boston.

Lotruglio is working with the Peabody Area Chamber of Commerce and the city to find a new storefront downtown, one that might accommodate outdoor seating and space for special events.

"I know Peabody has tried to upgrade their Main Street and make it a destination," she said.

Turns out, the city and the Peabody chamber have a new program to help entrepreneurs like Lotruglio find a storefront downtown called Lease it Local.

The city and the chamber have partnered with MassDevelopment, the state's economic development and finance authority, on the program aimed at activating unused commercial spaces in Peabody's downtown.

The grant program aims to lower barriers to those looking to open a brick-and-mortar location by defraying various startup costs associated with opening up a storefront.

Deanne Healey, president of the Peabody Area Chamber of Commerce, says a successful downtown needs a mix of three things: shops, service businesses and restaurants.

While downtown Peabody has attracted restaurants and cafes in recent years, such as Brothers Restaurant and Deli, Maki Sushi Bar and Grill and Northeast Arc's Breaking Grounds Cafe, along with many successful service businesses, it lacks a strong retail presence of boutique shops or stores offering other unique products or activities to draw customers, Healey says.
Lotruglio said she is involved with the grant program to find a new home for her boutique bakery concept.

"Our concept for the Main Street location would be a bakery/bistro using local North Shore foods and farms with a pantry section of our products as well as other local food makers," she said in an email.

Lease it local

Lease it Local is aimed at business owners, groups or organizations with destination-oriented concepts and a business plans who want to test the market or fine tune their offerings.

The grant money could be used for a variety of things, including general liability insurance, utilities, license or permit costs, build out costs, exterior improvements, including signage; promotional activities and materials, and other business startup costs, the chamber says.

In addition to the grant money, some applicants may also be eligible for assistance from the Peabody Community Development Department for site selection, business permitting and navigating the city's process.

While it did not grow out of Lease it Local, the Breaking Grounds Cafe at 67 Main St. provides a blueprint of how the city's investment helped launch a cafe.

Last year, the city approached the Danvers-based human service agency, Northeast Arc, about running the cafe. The problem was the Danvers-based agency had never attempted to run a food service business before. Northeast Arc has a large presence downtown with its ArcWorks Community Arts Center on Foster Street.

However, the city had already invested heavily in the space, spending $40,000 to outfit the space as a pop-up cafe called the The Coffee Experiment, initially run by Salem-based Jaho Coffee and Teas. Money came from a Community Development Block Grant, a MassDevelopment Placemaking Grant, local funding and in-kind contributions for plumbing, electrical and other work. 

Jo Ann Simons, the CEO of Northeast Arc, said Breaking Grounds has provided a way for the agency to give back to the community in filling a need for a coffee shop downtown, while providing opportunities to train those with disabilities in the food service industry.

When asked if having the cafe fitted out beforehand helped, Simons said: "Absolutely that helped."

Not a lot to lease

Lease it Local targets unused commercial properties in the city's Transformative Development Initiative  district, a designation which is part of a MassDevelopment initiative to spur investment and economic activity in Gateway Cities such as Peabody.

The area is bounded by Hardy and Upton streets to the north, Central Street to the west, Main Street to the south and Paleologos Street to the east.

Since Lease it Local's inception, Healey said one of its biggest hurdles has been a good one: a lack of places to rent, with four spaces going under agreement within the last month.

That includes the former district congressional office of John Tierney at 17 Peabody Square, which Healey said is under agreement for a family-style Mexican restaurant called La Siesta Restaurante, which has a location in Winthrop, Healey said.

The former Little Shop 'A Laura's at 2 Main St. is under agreement to become a vape shop, she said. The former locations of Pat's Discount and Peabody Vacuum Center at 77 Main St. are also under agreement.

Healey said available storefronts include the former location of a wireless store at 88 Main St., and the former location of the African Variety and Gift Store at 24 Main St. that has since moved to Salem.

There is space available in the Peabody Estate Buyers building at 43 Main St., and there is a retail space next to Peabody Music Box at 80 Main St.

Two things have combined to make the downtown attractive, Healey said.

One is the recent completion of the $5 million project to reconfigure Peabody Square to make it more pedestrian and business-friendly.

The other has been the success of Peabody Main Street programs, such as the upcoming Antique Car and Craft Show on Main Street on Oct. 7. If promoted well, Healey said, these programs show that if people have a reason to come downtown, they will.

At a recent ceremony to mark the completion of the Peabody Square reconfiguration project, Mayor Ted Bettencourt singled out 1 Main St., a building that had long struggled to attract investment until the city began to fix up the area. The developer's plan for the building includes 20 apartments and a relocated Brodie's Pub on the ground floor.

Bettencourt said he supports Lease it Local as part of "the focus over the last few years to make downtown more appealing and make it more attractive."

How to apply

To take part in the Lease it Local program, an applicant will have an initial meeting with the Small Business Development Center to review the proposal, according to the Peabody Area Chamber of Commerce.

Applicants will be judged by the concept and quality of the proposal; the feasibility of the proposal, including the use of funding; space utilization; applicant merit, and a letter from the landlord or management company outlining the applicant's intent to lease.

To apply, submit the following documents to president@peabodychamber.com:
A detailed description of the proposed business model or concept;
Timeframe for occupation, including hours of operation;
A visual of the products or wares;
Resumes or each contributor;
A preliminary for use of grant and private funding.

Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis by the Economic Vitality Committee of the Peabody Main Streets organization until pilot program funds are depleted. For more information, contact Peabody Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Deanne Healey at president@peabodychamber.com or 978-531-0384.